Autumn Snowmobile Musings Pt. 2 — Sled as Rescue Tool

Post by blogger | October 19, 2017      

Nothing new about snowmobiles being an important SAR tool. Yet anything can be improved — as well as repurposed.

October 2017 issue of Avalanche Review includes an excellent article on just that subject: using sleds for both access and the actual beacon search. (Article is published online at BCA Backcountry Access website). Scoot around on the debris pile with your sled while operating your transceiver? I’d never thought of that! Article authors Mike Duffy (avalanche educator) and Bruce Edgerly of BCA cover plenty of ideas in regard. Their presentation is somewhat oriented towards organized rescue crews, but applies to groups of recreational sledders or sled-skiers as well.

Avalanche review 36.1 includes article covering snowmobiles as avalanche rescue tool.

Avalanche Review 36.1 includes article covering snowmobiles as avalanche rescue tool.

Overarching concept is that modern sleds can boogie around on avalanche debris much faster than a walker. It goes unsaid that several sledders moving around a smaller deposition could get in each other’s way, but in my view the concept is valid. Below are a few bullet points from the article, with my thoughts.

Gear ideas

Beware of the huge heavy “utility sleds.” To the inexperienced they look like the ticket, but they’re not. Nearly impossible to get unstuck and they ride like a dead alligator. What you want is a long tracked mountain sled with plenty of power.

Always carry spare goggles as well as either another pair with clear lens, or replacement lens. It’s surprising how dim a sled headlight actually is compared to the sun, night riding with tinted goggles is compromised.

Carry two shovels, one on the sled and one in your backpack. If you auger in, use the sled shovel for the digout so you can keep your pack on (especially important if you rock an airbag rucksack). Much better than shedding your backpack and having it end up in the melee, or worse, being hit by an avy and unburied — needing to dig out your friend — and your shovel pack is buried.

Snowmobile ski rack outrigger detail.

My current ski rack protrudes from tunnel, possibly causing injury if driver comes off the sled to the rear. Readers have commented on this, glad to get more incentive to re-design. I’m on it.

The best ski racks carry your planks longitudinally to the long axis of the sled, at a low angle. In other the skis resemble “tails” or “fins” perhaps protruding a few feet beyond the rear of the track tunnel. This is super important in timbered terrain where low branches break things they encounter, as well as preventing a snapping sound in the event you roll your sled. My sled’s ski rack holds planks at a low angle, but it does have parts that protrude from the tunnel. Duffy mentions in his part of the article that racks like mine can injure if you come off the sled backwards while it’s under power. Good point, perhaps time for another build.

We have a pile of WildSnow content regarding snowmobile ski racks.

Rescue thoughts

I don’t ride much with my kill switch tether, probably should. In a rescue situation you would probably untether so you can quickly move on and off your sled. In my view, tethers are important if you ride fast in terrain where your sled could “ghost” down over a cliff or into a tree, but not so important when you’re moving methodically in rougher topography, such as a debris field?

Ride your sled to where you deem your beacon search should begin. Leave it running (to avoid starting problems), hop off and move about six feet away to obviate any EMI. The article says BCA has found that most operating snowmobile engines compromise beacon performance if you’re close.

The article goes on to describe doing a beacon search that involves riding your sled. Doing so sounds complex, with obvious issues of overshooting the victim location. The procedure depends on acquiring accurate distance and direction readings. Modern beacons do that quite well, but still require patience and practice if you’re going to depend on the numbers. Thus, just as the best companion rescue requires practice, if you do much sledding in avy terrain it’s probably a good idea to set up a few “sled rescue” simulations with your friends. Begin by acquiring a copy of Avalanche Review 36.1, October 2017.

I know a number of WildSnow readers are experienced snowmobilers. Any of you guys thought on how you’d utilize your sled in the event of an avalanche rescue?


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


8 Responses to “Autumn Snowmobile Musings Pt. 2 — Sled as Rescue Tool”

  1. Aaron T October 20th, 2017 9:40 am

    An extremely experienced instructor recommends for organized rescue groups keeping old analog beacons around for sled or low heli hover searches over large debris fields as they had better range, no digital processing cycle that misses a signal if moving quickly and had earphone buds that fit under helmets. Once signal acquired switch to modern 3 antenae.

  2. Aaron October 20th, 2017 11:13 am

    Sorry that was a rushed post on phone with poor grammar. This was advice given to an organized rescue course by a very experienced instructor.

  3. travis October 21st, 2017 1:58 pm

    As I remember it, the last beacon to use an earbud was the Ortovox F2, which was already getting replaced by the F1 in the early 90s. So you’re talking about a 30 year old transceiver. And getting the earbud setup, into the helmet, then later switching to a digital beacon seems pretty fumbly. If analog is that important to your SAR team, it would seem much better to supply a modern beacon that’s also got an analog mode.

  4. Lynne Wolfe October 23rd, 2017 9:01 am

    First of all, Lou, thanks for the nice plug for The Avalanche Review. Glad that some of our material can be useful for your audience.

    Second, most organized SAR groups that utilize helicopters have a specialized analog beacon setup that hangs below the ship and the signal transmits into headphones that the pilot or copilot is already wearing. I can’t find a link right this minute, but am sure anyone in the SAR community can speak to this.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Jeremy from Arva October 23rd, 2017 10:11 am

    @Travis Mammut and Arva still offer Headphone and analog search modes in their high end models. These two brands are also the only ones using Interference management in their software that can help deal with interference from phones, digital radios…. and I guess snowmobiles (although I would like to see a more comprehensive study and explanation before this one is assumed factual). The units used in Helicopters are for SAR (expensive) and are mostly a modified version of a beacon developed by Manuel G. And if you happen to see and F1 still around I would not save it for any reason, this model is common with its age to have signal drift as well as not be “helpful” when it is being searched for in multi-burial scenerios.

  6. Aaron October 23rd, 2017 1:01 pm

    AT least some F1s had earbuds. Does signal drift affect receive or only transmit? The situation I described was for volunteer groups with limited resources and only in a very specific large deposit search phase (not as a transmitting beacon).

  7. Jeremy from Arva October 23rd, 2017 6:30 pm

    Aaron, To answer your questions, Signal drift affects transmitting signal, a fun test if you have a “drifted” beacon is to place it at the same distance as a good unit (one on at a time) and you will get a noticeable different/inaccurate reading, that alone should be enough of a sell against the (regular) use. I can see your specific application and that is creative and great. Speaking for Arva, the Link, ProW, and new Axio models all have ports for ear buds. The advanced “Rescuer” market is shrinking since you can buy such good beacons for $350 or less, I wouldn’t say it is stopping innovation but this level of gear is becoming more specialized.

  8. LID October 25th, 2017 11:34 pm

    Riding your sled across debris at the best of times can be difficult. Side-hilling and route finding, constantly getting bucked off your line, and possible roll overs are always a possibility, without having to maintain a specific pattern or split some of your concentration towards your beacon.

    Also, if you have an older sled, don’t leave it running if you are not getting right back on it. Leave it running and walk away for an extended period and it will likely overheat. (Newer ETEC engines shut themselves off if they overheat while idling)

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